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Bird
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Fledgling
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Head
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Owl

Oscar Littlefield

Oscar Littlefield was born in Philadelphia and lived much of his life in the eastern part of the country. Though he trained in art, he became a social worker and moved to Sioux City in 1954 to become Executive Director of the Sioux City Jewish Federation. He created his sculptures without sketches or plans. Instead, he began carving the wood and waited for the structure of the wood grain to guide him toward a finished sculpture.

Owl

Oscar Littlefield

American (Artist with ties to Sioux City)

1902–1984

Owl, ca. 1963-1964

mahogany

Sioux City Art Center Permanent Collection; 2001.19

Gift of Mr. Michael Marek

Head

Process

His work reveals an intimate connection between material, form and content. Each of his sculptures develops using the random variations in wood grain as the inspiration-sources for the final form of his work. By discovering imagery in natural materials and working to realize those images as the art, Littlefield’s sculptures are part of a dialogue between chance events and the artist’s own personal subjectivity. This method is a variety of Surrealist “automatism.” Originally this art technique was used by psychologists to diagnose mental disease by encouraging their patients to do “automatic writing” where the patient would simply write whatever came to mind. Today this psychoanalytic tool is best-known as “free association.” The Surrealists adapted automatism to become a technique for artists to try and escape their own preconceptions. The approach is very simple: an artist looks for inspiration in random patterns and pays attention to their own personal, subjective responses and imaginings—the shapes and forms they see emerging in the material as they are working on it—and then use these visions as guides for their art.

Historical Context

Littlefield’s working process reveals the influence of Surrealism, common among American artists working after World War II. But while Littlefield’s work is not Surrealist, his approach to sculpture has its origins with a Surrealist technique that was adapted and popularized by the Abstract Expressionists called “automatism.” This process was introduced to American artists by the French movement during the exodus of European artists to the United States during World War II. It was especially important for the Abstract Expressionist painters, particularly Jackson Pollock whose drip paintings are an example of how this method was transformed by American artists, transformed automatism with the technique of pouring and flinging paint at unprimed canvas lying flat on the floor of his studio. He would then manipulate the results to create the compositions of his famous “drip” paintings.

Fledgling

Oscar Littlefield

American (Artist with ties to Sioux City)

1902–1984

Fledgling, 1959

wood (primavera)

Sioux City Art Center Permanent Collection; 963.11

Purchase Award from the Area Artists Show, 1963

Bird

Process

His work reveals an intimate connection between material, form and content. Each of his sculptures develops using the random variations in wood grain as the inspiration-sources for the final form of his work. By discovering imagery in natural materials and working to realize those images as the art, Littlefield’s sculptures are part of a dialogue between chance events and the artist’s own personal subjectivity. This method is a variety of Surrealist “automatism.” Originally this art technique was used by psychologists to diagnose mental disease by encouraging their patients to do “automatic writing” where the patient would simply write whatever came to mind. Today this psychoanalytic tool is best-known as “free association.” The Surrealists adapted automatism to become a technique for artists to try and escape their own preconceptions. The approach is very simple: an artist looks for inspiration in random patterns and pays attention to their own personal, subjective responses and imaginings—the shapes and forms they see emerging in the material as they are working on it—and then use these visions as guides for their art.

Historical Context

Littlefield’s working process reveals the influence of Surrealism, common among American artists working after World War II. But while Littlefield’s work is not Surrealist, his approach to sculpture has its origins with a Surrealist technique that was adapted and popularized by the Abstract Expressionists called “automatism.” This process was introduced to American artists by the French movement during the exodus of European artists to the United States during World War II. It was especially important for the Abstract Expressionist painters, particularly Jackson Pollock whose drip paintings are an example of how this method was transformed by American artists, transformed automatism with the technique of pouring and flinging paint at unprimed canvas lying flat on the floor of his studio. He would then manipulate the results to create the compositions of his famous “drip” paintings.